Creating the Customer WOW Experience

I am flabbergasted. Incredulous. Blown away. Still in shock.

I  just came from a meeting of 50+ people who listened to four very bright and sincere customer service/customer support representatives from start-up companies in Portland talk about how they create the customer WOW experience when confused, disgruntled, frustrated or just plain mad customers call in because either they can’t use the product the way they want to or the product doesn’t perform as advertised or something else has gone awry between product functionality and customer expectations.

Hold the phone here, please! Why is customer support charged with creating the WOW experience? Why is top management charged with forecasting how many customer support people will be required based on sales volume? What if — and this is a revolutionary concept, I’ll admit — the product actually worked when it was delivered? What if it had a logical “idiot proof” set of controls or an error-resistant operational flow?

During the meeting I was taken back to my days in the 1970s when I taught electronic engineers how to design circuits to be easier to manufacture, test and service.  In fact I wrote the first book on that subject — Design for Testability — and later authored Managing Concurrent Engineering, a tome that proselytized the simultaneous design of a product so that it functioned as designed, could be economically duplicated in manufacturing, could be tested thoroughly to be fault free when shipped to the customer and could be serviced quickly and economically when it did fail.

When trade-offs had to be made between product functionality and the “-ilities,” product functionality almost always won out. In fact “feature creep” was one of the key problems that caused delays in getting products to market. But product functionality testing, or design verification as it was called, was held in the highest regard because the cost of shipping something that didn’t work as advertised could be huge enough to put a company out of business long before it could fix the problems in the product.

As I sat down to write this I noticed that Casey Wheeler had shared Seth Godin’s blog entitled “What’s in the box?” in the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network group on LinkedIn and that Michael Temple had commented on it by quoting Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start as follows: “… too many start ups try to work out ALL the bugs before taking their idea to the market. The only way to know if what you have to offer will work is to get it out there. Correct the mistakes as the feedback comes in. In time, you will perfect what you are trying to develop, but you will need the public’s help to identify what needs to be corrected.”

Well I beg to differ with Mr. Kawaski, folk hero to so many product developers as he may be. Because product development teams following his advice are the reason that four customer support people are still holding meetings like this for 50+ people audiences 40 years later! It is incredible. Shocking. Deja vu all over again for me. I’ll repeat my earlier question: What if the product actually worked?

I’ll be the first to admit that perfection is nigh impossible to achieve in a first product release. And that there comes a time when you must declare the product finished and get it out into the marketplace. But if you know it has issues, sell it initially to early adopters smart enough to work around those issues, not to the non-techie masses who need customer support people trained not only in solving product problems but in dealing with frustrated customers as well. Can we at least think about these issues early on in the development process?

OK.  Got that off my chest. I think. I have lots of stories about getting things right the first time instead of doing them over again. Including Deming’s story about the Japanese and the American companies making toast. I’d be happy to discuss my opinions on this subject anytime and welcome your comments. What do you think?


Glitz, Gilt or Gold?

Glitz-Gilt-Gold Which of these three words most closely describes the kinds of products or services that you or your company provides to its customers? It makes a difference when you think about your target markets, your messages, your packaging and pricing and your media selections (among other things).

Glitz, an extravagant and often tasteless display of wealth, is often associated with the newly wealthy. These folks put on garish, ostentatious airs in an effort to impress their peers or their public. They want to provoke envy and feed greed. Glitz is pretty easy to recognize.

Gilt can often be used to turn ordinary objects into glitzy things that shine with false value. Or it can be used effectively to put just the right sheen on an object of art that has real value. Gilt has no intrinsic value, other than the minimal amount of gold used in its application, but it may have considerable artistic or aesthetic value. Or practical value, such is in the gold plating of electrical contacts for maximum conductivity.

Real gold, on the other hand, has real intrinsic value in today’s world based on its scarcity and the demand for that scarce resource.

What do you sell or provide? If your customers are those who want glitz, you’ll want to get your messages to them via media such as fashion magazines, give-away bags at celebrity events and ads in high end publications that cater to the rich and famous.  With the emphasis here being on famous. They want the world to know that they can afford all the glitz in the world, useful or not.

If your customers want gold, you’ll most likely reach them through referrals. They often have no desire to be glitzy or to show off their wealth. They just want to enjoy it and they travel in circles with similar folks often from old or earned money. They are not usually showoffs and they most definitely usually avoid glitz like the plague. The silk underwear might cost thousands but it is worn underneath the expensive but understated suit or dress — not on the outside!

And then there is gilt. This is where things get tricky. Your product or service needs to be attractive enough to warrant the attention, however brief, of your prospective customer if you are to have any chance of making a sale. And gilt, by itself, is neither good nor evil, given that it is used effectively and the underlying product or service provides real value to the customer at a mutually acceptable price. If this is your type of offering in the marketplace, and the vast majority of products and services do fall into this category, you have your work cut out for you in terms of coming up with the right strategies for your markets, message and media.

If you’d like to share your thoughts on the words above, I imagine many readers would like to know them. Opinions one way or another are welcome.  Let us hear from you.


Some Analytics Thoughts for a Thursday

It’s been a busy day and before I head out for another networking event I thought I’d take a breather and put some words together for this blog this week.  Seems like I had a burst of creativity — or verbosity, depending on your point of view — two weeks ago.  I did five blog posts that week, including two videos, one of which was The 15-Question Silent Marketing Test.

Looking at the Google analytics, The Power of Passion got the most views. That was followed very closely by The Instant Strategy Session offer, which is really a commercial for my services, and Keep It Simple, Please.  The Business of Selling Likes, Follows and Views, The Power of Planning and The Power of Positioning each got about half as many views as the top three. The 15-Question Silent Marketing Test came in at the bottom. So I’m trying to figure out what this all means.

Beyond the blog, I also look at the overall visitors flow for my website since it went live four short months ago. It looks like this:

Website Analystics July 2012

People clearly like the calendar, which comes in a very close second to the home page as a landing page, where I aggregate events of interest to my fellow networkers and othersin and around Portland. Several people have praised that page for its ability to show them what’s happening without having to search multiple sites and groups and there are a bunch who actually subscribe to it. I’m clearly providing value there and I’m happy to do it.  Presentation Links comes in next and I think that’s because I’ve put my printed info up there in electronic format, including some live pdf planning and strategy forms that I use in my consulting work with clients.

A few people have told me that I’m giving too much away on the Presentation Links page and that it is costing me paying clients. I think that may be true to some extent, but I’m OK with that because there are enough people who want the chance to sit down and talk with me about their specific issues and are willing to invest a few bucks to do so. My mission is to help businesses grow through better marketing strategies. If I can help them do it organically, or provide my services, I’m happy to do both (within reason, of course as I do have to make a living!).

The Marketing Seminar/Workshop page is also getting a significant number of page views and I expect that August 9th event to be a great success. Blatant plug: If you haven’t signed up for it yet, please do so ASAP. The Early Bird price of only $45 for this half-day event ends July 28th. The Newsletter page doesn’t show up at all in the website analytics, which leads me to believe that I’m driving traffic to the website from the newsletter but not vice versa.

What do your site’s analytics tell you about the information you provide to your prospects and customers? What actions do you take based on your interpretation of your analytics?

I’d love to hear from you so please don’t be shy about using the Leave a Comment box to make your thoughts known.

The Business of Selling Likes, Follows and Views

Shotgun Marketing ImageI am a bit confused. I’ve been getting emails and social media messages lately from companies who want to sell me untargeted likes, follows and views.  For $30 to $100 (or more) they’ll get 1,000 or 2,500 or more people to like my Facebook business page, begin following me on Twitter or viewing my videos on YouTube. What I’m confused about is why on earth I would want to gain likes, follows or views from people from all over heck and gone who most likely have absolutely no interest in doing business with me.

In days past I’ve “bought” lead lists for snail-mail and email marketing campaigns and used them with varying levels of success. But in all cases I was using targeted lists, where I specified genders, ages, income levels, zip codes, occupations and, depending on the sophistication of the lead list seller, even whether or not they were dog owners, boat owners or mobile home residents. So I knew that the message I would be sending had at least some chance of being of interest to the people on the list.

When you are doing a proper job of marketing planning and strategy development, doing some research on market niches where your products or services might be needed is basic to the process. So is identifying the characteristics of the people who make up the target markets so that you can hone your message to resonate with them. And, depending on where you sell your products or services, geography is a fairly important element as well.

And these people want me to buy untargeted likes, follows and views? I think not. Even if they did have such nice things to say about my website and how they’d love to have lots more people see my content because it is so special. Baloney! I bet they have robots that troll the web for any and all new websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform account holders and postings to YouTube (and probably Pinterest, Vimeo, SlideShare, etc.).

Given that their automated systems can very cheaply send messages to virtually the whole world of people on the internet, they’re going to get some customers. People who don’t have a clue about real marketing. And yet these sellers of likes, follows and views are smart marketers who make excellent use of untargeted lists simply because they know that there are enough suckers prospects out in the world that they’ll reel enough of them in to sustain their own business. So for them, and maybe for a worldwide company looking to build brand awareness, untargeted lists might just work.

But will they work for you or me? How much new business will you get from having 2,500 random people having clicked a button?

I’d sure like to hear your opinions on this topic. Your comments are warmly solicited.


Keep It Simple, Please

I just saw a commercial for a new car (whose manufacturer shall remained unnamed – but it begins with a “C”) that talked about integrating all of the functions that used to be discrete buttons, knobs or slider controls in the car into a tablet-computer-like interface. And that reminded me of my old electronic design for testability preaching days where two of the key tenets were control and visibility.

The drawing below on the left represents and typical audio control panel in a car. The drawing below on the right represents what future ones will undoubtedly look like whether we like it or not.  What’s the difference?


In the example on the left, you can turn the audio system on or off with the push of one button.  You can select AM or FM by pushing one button. You can scan or seek stations with the up and down Tuning buttons, stick a CD in, adjust the balance and the fade and the volume. Very simple, very straightforward, all functions visible and easily controllable.

What about the example on the right? First you have to find the audio system menu. Then select radio. Then select AM or FM. Then go back to the top menu to select Balance or Fade.  The CD track previous and next buttons do double duty as the radio tuning down and up functions. And you can’t even find the volume control! Functions invisible without detailed knowledge of how the system works, or lots of trial and error or practice, and control impossible to achieve without multiple actions to get to the right places.

Do you call this progress? It violates all of the principles in Donald Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things and everything I taught to design engineers about human interfaces. I think you’d be much more likely to have an accident trying to adjust your radio using the example on the right than the one on the left.

What’s this got to do with marketing, you ask? A lot, as it turns out. If you try to cram too many messages into your marketing communications vehicles you are only going to confuse people and make it much more difficult for them to reach their buying decisions. Clear, concise, easy to understand single messages — Save, Get, Solve, Gain, Avoid, etc. — are much more effective. Pointing out and even repeating a single benefit in multiple ways is preferable to including a laundry list of features just because the technology let us do that.

Does this make sense? Let me know what you think. I’d love to share your insights and experience with others and I’m sure they’d enjoy reading about them.

15 Question Silent Marketing Test

Would you hire a consultant who will listen to your issues and opinions, repackage them in a fancy report and feed you back reinforcement of your opinions? You would, and rightly so, if you were absolutely convinced of the rightness of your position and simply wanted a fancy report to use as a sales tool to your upper management. But if you really want help in determining what you really should be doing in your marketing efforts, you might want to think about hiring someone who won’t necessarily agree with everything you have to say.

I got to thinking about that the other day and this little video is the result of that thinking.  Enjoy!

Let me know what you think by leaving your comments on this post.  I’d love to hear from you.


Watch Your Language

Helping Businesses Grow

How many languages do you think you speak? Presumably you have English in your language repertoire and possibly some additional ethnic languages like Spanish, French, Italian or German. Or maybe Swedish, Danish or Norwegian.  Or maybe Japanese or one or more Chinese dialects. The more languages you have, the better you are able to communicate with those who might become your friends, business acquaintances and possibly customers as well. But are the ethnic languages, if you speak them, the only ones besides English that you speak? Probably not.

You have your regional language — words and phrases that are particular to the city, state, region or country where you live. Soft drinks are typically “soda” on the West Coast of the United States.  They are “pop” on the East Coast.  “Regular” coffee in the East has cream and sugar.  Not so in the West. People “paak the caa” in Boston, while in Texas they might have used “typerwritors” to compose letters before computers. In the U.S. you might be asked if you would like a wake up call in the morning when you check into a hotel. In the U.K., you’ll likely be asked if you’d like to be knocked up in the morning.

You also have your professional language(s). If you are an electrical engineer, you are familiar with terms like volts, ohms, amps and watts. These measure are quite foreign, however, to a cook who uses teaspoons, tablespoons, cups and pinches. If you are an accountant, terms like debits, credits, assets, liabilities and equity have very specific meanings. Their meanings might vary considerably to a small business owner not formally schooled in the actual language of accounting. And just try to get a homeowner considering the purchase of a new something to understand the nanoseconds and picofarads that were traded off during the design of that new toy.

It’s important to consider your language when you craft your marketing message(s), because what works great in one circumstance can fail miserably in another. Remember the Chevy Nova story, where in Spanish “nova” translates colloquially to “doesn’t go?” There are lots more examples like this where not enough attention was paid to the language, literal or not, of the potential consumer.

Effective communication is not what it is you are saying to the person listening to you. Nor what you think you are conveying with your language. It is what the other person is actually perceiving from your language. This, among other reasons, is why expert marketers test language before using it widely, do “a/b” tests with message headlines and convene focus groups to gauge prospective customer reactions to various marketing messages.Knocked-Up-Cartoon

Does what I’ve said here make sense to you?  If not, I’d sure like to know from you where I may have misspoken. Thanks for reading. Your comments are hereby kindly solicited.

The Power of Passion

Are you passionate about your business? About what you do for a living? If not, you might not be as happy or successful as your passionate peers.

We are naturally attracted to passionate people.  It could be the fiery preacher who promises to rain down fire and lightning upon the unbelievers.  Or the enthusiastic motivational speaker who is passionate about using visualization as a method to achieve your goals.  They stir something inside us because they exude energy and clearly are truly believers in their causes.

If you sell a product, do people recognize your passion as you extol its virtues? Or do they see you trying to make a sale so you can make your quota? If you perform services, do people see that you really care about the results of your work? Or do they see you just going through the motions and trying to get the task at hand finished in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort?

If you are buying a product, which characteristic of the person hawking it would be more likely to persuade you to give him or her your business? My guess is that you’d be much more likely to buy from someone who is passionate.  Passionate about the benefits you’ll gain from buying that product.  Passionate about how it will save you something, help you avoid a painful something, help you solve a difficult problem or perform some other function that you didn’t want quite as desperately when the sales process started but which you are now pretty darned enthusiastic about needing. Because passion is contagious.

I hear a lot of motivational speakers in my networking activities. I will tell you that the one thing they all have in common is passion for what they do. Passion in their need to persuade people to their point of view. Passion in helping you be as happy and successful as they are. And you can spot the phonies in an instant, because passion cannot easily be faked. At least not for long!

So give some thought to what you do in your marketing activities. Do you communicate your story with the kind of passion that will motivate prospects to become customers? If not, what might you be able to do to correct that situation? Because correct it you must if you wish to achieve maximum success, however you define it. And I really mean that. Passionately.

Let me know what you think. I really would like to hear from you.